What’s It Really Like Living In Budapest?

I’d like to share an interview with Hannah, who lives in Budapest (Hungary). In this post, she’ll be sharing her experience of living and working there. I hope you enjoy it! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section. 

Hi Hannah! Please start by introducing yourself…

Hi! I’m Hannah. I’m originally from Northern Virginia, about 45 minutes outside Washington, D.C. I have been teaching English abroad for going on 7 years and it all started with a TEFL program in Florence. I was in Rome for just over 4 1/2 years, and now I’m having a new adventure in Budapest.  To bring in a little extra travel money, I also work with VIPKID and doing private tutoring on the side in addition to my full time teaching job. Like Jess Sims, my favorite Peloton trainer, says, “Never easy, always worth it”.

What made you choose Budapest?

Budapest chose me! I left Italy, but knew I still wanted to work in Europe. I spent several months looking up different countries with visa requirements and job opportunities, and then I got lucky with Budapest. I have a friend who was working for a really interesting educational company here and after speaking to her about the job, I applied. The rest is history!

How did you go about finding a job and an apartment?

Once I spoke to my friend about the job, it seemed like a really good fit. Although, I had already started the application and interview process for jobs in South Korea. I was offered the job in Budapest first, so it just seemed like a sign- Europe is where I truly wanted to be. 

A big perk with my company is that they actually find the housing for you. You pay for it, but the money is automatically taken out of your paycheck every month so you never have to worry about paying rent. The only downside is that you don’t see your apartment, neighborhood, or anything like that before you move in. But, having dealt with the tedious apartment search many times, I was happy to sacrifice the first look for the convenience. 

What is your favourite neighbourhood and why?

Hm, good question! My favorite part of European cities is the Old Town with the classic cobblestone  streets and charming architecture. There isn’t much of that in Budapest, but you do see some of it in the Castle District and near the Fisherman’s Bastion. Another area I really love is Kálvin tér.  There are some absolutely beautiful streets and really great restaurants. 

What do you enjoy most about living in Budapest? Has it lived up to your expectations?

Budapest has a terrific restaurant and bar scene, particularly on the international front. Hungarian food is not my favorite, to be honest, so having a wide array of other delicious options is a lot of fun. And, maybe not the most exciting thing but certainly up there on the favorites, is the public transport. Oh lordy! I can’t tell you how great the public transport is. It’s clean, reliable, speedy. I’d say it’s definitely the best I’ve experienced in Europe, and maybe even around the world. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced living there?

I lived in Italy before this so I was very used to, and loved, pretty much everything that came along with la dolce vita. I’m talking the food, the weather, the more open people, the sea, the mountains, and one more time, the more open people. Don’t get me wrong, Hungarians are lovely. However, they are not open and are not very smiley people. In fact, I’ve been told by every Hungarian I’ve met that if they see people smiling on the streets they assume that person is either mentally ill or drunk. I kid you not. So I’d say getting used to a culture that is essentially the opposite of my natural instinct has been challenging. 

How does the cost of living in your new city compare to back home?  

It’s quite cheap to live here. However, that means the local salaries are very low compared to what any American would be used to. I’m also making a lot less here than I was making in Italy. It’s very easy to live in Budapest on my current salary, however paying my US credit card or traveling outside of Hungary brings challenges. 

To make more money, most teachers at our company do private tutoring. I also work with VIPKID, which is ideal since the money goes right into my US account. 

Has it been easy to meet people and make friends? Are most of your friends Hungarian, expats or a mix of both?

This is a tough question to answer for me. I’m currently on my second year in Budapest, and I have a much different perspective on this than I did last year. I struggled meeting “my people” last year and it took a few months to really start to feel close to some colleagues. Now on my second year, though, I’ve grown so close to a great group of people and know that some of them are friends for life. There are also some good expat groups and female traveler groups here which host events. Now with COVID, it’s a bit more difficult to go to these types of events, but I went to a few last year before the world turned upside down 

What are your tips for learning a foreign language?

I’d start with Netflix and music. Hungarian is darn near impossible and I have no expectation of being able to hold a conversation (sorry!), but being exposed to media has helped me recognize some words. And honestly being a teacher is great, as well. My students are very advanced in English so I never hear them speak Hungarian, but in a Hungarian school automatically exposes me to the language.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before moving over?

The things that I struggle with I was mostly aware of before arriving. I knew the weather would be tough for me, and I was told about the cultural difference of personalities. But I wish I had maybe dug a bit deeper and really understood some of the differences. It may have taken away some of the shock in the very beginning. 

If you could change one thing about Budapest, what would it be?

The weather. I’m a person very affected by the weather, and the winter’s here are brutal. It gets dark so early, and even when there is daylight, it’s usually just grey. 

Also, the food. Sorry not sorry. I like about two Hungarian dishes. I’m a vegetarian, which is important to know when talking about Hungarian cuisine, because it’s very meat-heavy. When I go to Hungarian restaurants, I know my eyes will only see shades of brown or white. Maybe with some parsley. Sour cream on pasta and fried camembert is good, but you can only have so much. 

Fortunately, for such a meat happy city/country, there is a big vegan and vegetarian scene is. Amen! One of my all time favorite restaurants, and not just in Budapest, is called Napfényes. It’s completely vegan, and even has a vegan bakery. The food is INCREDIBLE. I’ve taken so many friends and even my family her e- everyone loves it. 

What Hungarian food do you like the most and least?

Most: lángos. It’s basically deep fried pizza dough topped with sour cream, garlic, and cheese. That’s the most traditional one. I’ve seen one other ones here and there. But apparently you should never have them sweet. My tour guide on a free walking tour my first day here said every time you eat a sweet langos, a baby dies. Dramatic. 

Least: I can’t say the meat because I’ve never actually had it and all my friends like it so I’ll take their word for it. I’ll go with something I have tried that is just not my cup of tea. They do cold soup here. Particularly fruit soup. More specially sour cherry soup. I’ll just leave that there. 

Based on your experiences, which of the Hungarian stereotypes have some truth in them and which are completely false?

To be honest, I didn’t know any Hungarian stereotypes before I moved over. Well, I guess actually thinking about it one could be that the people are tough and serious. And I’d say that’s half-true. They seem very serious, perhaps even negative and pessimistic, on the surface. Again, there’s not much smiling going on on the streets. But, once you get to know them, just like any other person, they’re wonderful and very helpful. As a whole, though, it is normal for Hungarians to be negative and very hard on themselves. 

Have you travelled much around Hungary? What are some of your favourite places you’ve been?

I have travelled a bit, yes! I actually just got back from a trip to Miskolc, Györ, and Sopron. All beautiful places. Miskolc has a thermal spa in a cave so no more is needed- just go. Györ and Sopron both look like classic small European towns so right up my alley. I also really love hiking and Hungary is HUGE on that so it’s nice to take advantage of the nature literally everywhere. I mean from the city center it can take 20 minutes to get up to the forest and hills. 

Is there anything you miss from home that you can’t do/find/buy in Budapest?

TRADER JOES. Hands up if you’re just as obsessed with TJ’s. I miss the sea. Terribly. The Danube is cool, but you can’t compare that to the beach. 

Thank you so much Hannah for giving us an insight into your life in Budapest and the highlights and challenges that come with it. You can follow Hannah on Instagram. If you enjoyed this interview, check out my other interviews with people living and working abroad. 

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